YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s a great year for retailers of big-ticket outdoor recreation items. But it would be even better if they had the inventory.
Just a few weeks ago, most stores that sell summer toys – bicycles, ATVs, swimming pools, boats and RVs – were seeing unprecedented demand. In many cases, sales were running at twice the pace of a normal year.
But the coronavirus shutdown that spurred the spike in sales also closed factories. Now, dealers are running a backlog of orders that ranges from a few weeks to a year.
For many folks who seek a balance between summer fun and social distancing, thoughts turned to the bicycle. Local shops saw an unprecedented rise in demand.
At Outdoor Recreational Equipment in Boardman, owner Anthony Ricchiuti said he had 400 bicycles in stock in March but now his showroom is practically empty.
Even more amazing, ORE has 500 units on order. He doesn’t know when they will arrive; it could be any time between now and December, he said.
On June 15, received a shipment of 41 bikes and sold them all within five days. The store carries the high-end Trek line, which starts in the $300s and tops out above $10,000.
The story is the same at Austintown Glenwood Cycle, where the showroom is mostly bare. Demand remains strong, but most customers have to wait.
“The orders are all in. But we’re not seeing anything,” said co-owner Don Johnson. “In the last five weeks, we’ve gotten one bike. There are 150 to 200 bikes on order for us and we don’t know when we’re going to see them.”
Austintown Cycle sells Giant bicycles; like Trek, it is a top-end brand with a similar price range.
The rush on bicycles began in March when the coronavirus took its grip.
“It happened right at the time when we get busy every year because people were tied up in their houses,” said ORE’s Ricchiuti.
The service departments at both stores also got a flurry of business from people who wanted to get their old bikes back in riding shape.
Ricchiuti pointed at dozens of bikes lined up on his sales floor. None were for sale; they were just brought in for repairs and were awaiting pickup.
“We didn’t have enough room for them in our service area,” he said.
Both Ricchiuti and Johnson say parts are also hard to come by for repairs, causing delays of up to a month.
Outdoor Recreational Equipment also sells kayaks and camping gear. Those lines of merchandise also saw a sharp rise in sales this year, but not to the extent as bicycles. “We had 125 kayaks in stock in March and about 15 to 20 now,” Ricchiuti said.
He started ORE 28 years ago but has never seen a year like this one.
“The first week of May we said, ‘Holy smokes!’ We couldn’t believe how many people were here,” Ricchiuti said. “They were fighting over bicycles. We had a lot of people coming in from Pittsburgh. We will never experience anything like this again.”
He expects his year-to-year sales to double for 2020, although the future is uncertain because of the lag in inventory.
Bicycle stores were allowed to remain open during the shutdown because they are transportation-related and considered essential.
But bicycle factories in China, Taiwan and the Philippines were forced to close for more than a month, said Austintown Cycle’s Johnson.
His shop did close from March 23 to May 18 because of the health problems of his brother and co-owner Chris Johnson.
Johnson said customers have driven from out of state after buying bikes from him online. “They couldn’t get them anywhere else,” he said.
Austintown Glenwood Cycle usually has 400 to 500 bikes in stock, but now only about two dozen. And they are not the popular models.
“Our top sellers are recreational bikes, for the bike trail or path, and comfort series bikes,” he said. “Anything that is between $300 and $600 and is recreation-oriented.”
His April through June sales are up by 150% to 200% over last year but his inventory woes will cause a reversal.
“It’s going to start going the other way because we have no product in the pipeline,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’re going to see bikes until mid-July or later. We’ve got to rely on our service department [for revenue] now, and it is way up, although we’re having trouble getting parts.”
ATVs, Campers, Pools and Boats
Dealers of more expensive recreational items also see a sales boom because of the pandemic.
Some buyers canceled vacations out of a fear of flying and are looking for something to take their place. For others, the COVID-19 crisis is the thing that finally pushed them into making a dream purchase.
“We have people that have been coming in for years, tire-kickers, who say, ‘Maybe someday,’ ” said Matt Greenawalt, owner of Homestead RV in Hubbard. “Well, ‘someday’ is here.”
Sales have been “off the hook,” Greenawalt said, but restocking his inventory has also been a problem.
The Indiana factories where Jayco and Forest River campers are made were shut down in March for six to eight weeks, causing an inventory backlog.
“I have at least 50 RVs on order,” Greenawalt said. He expects them to arrive by August. New orders could take even longer – up to December, depending on the model.
The factories, he said, are working hard to catch up. Greenawalt hopes new inventory arrives in time to ease the pinch before the end of summer.
His business has been steadily growing over the last three years but nothing like this. He doesn’t see demand drying up any time soon.
“Last year, we had a hard time fitting the units [on the lot] but this year we are pre-selling them,” Greenawalt said. “They come in and then leave the same day.”
His store remained open as an essential business, although he did reduce staff in March. Service calls rose sharply then and by early May, “the sales side went crazy.”
Campgrounds in Ohio were permitted to reopen on May 1, so that was never an issue. The sales rush, Greenawalt said, “is driven by people not wanting to fly. They still want to go to Disneyland, so they’re getting a camper.”
Buyers, he said, have extra money to spend and good credit. They are also happy campers when they come to his sales lot.
“They’re excited about what they are buying and it makes coming to work kind of nice,” Greenawalt said. “I tell my sales people to treat people with respect and be attentive to their questions. Because what they are buying is their dream.”
Some buyers have canceled their beach vacations and are getting pools in their backyards for summer-long staycations. At Caribbean Pools and Hot Tubs in Austintown, manager Brian Remias said sales for the spring months are twice that of last year.
“The first week of May is when demand really spiked,” Remias said. “That’s when people found out that country clubs and swim clubs were either closed or will not be opening as soon as they usually do.”
Two weeks later, his inventory was depleted. Remias has been ordering pools for customers and now has a backlog.
“We are backed up to mid- to late August in terms of installing pools,” he said. “Many people are buying them now for next year.”
Caribbean’s pools are manufactured at plants in the United States and Canada. “Those factories all had to shut down. And a lot of them just reopened on June 8,” Remias said. “If you didn’t have the inventory before the season began, you were behind the eight ball.”
The store, owned by Steve Bayer, is getting 15 to 20 calls per day from people who want to buy pools or hot tubs. “We’ve never been this busy for this long,” Remias said.
His top sellers are 24-foot aboveground pools, which start at $3,700, installation included.
Water-lovers have also flooded boat dealerships, snapping up everything and leaving nearly bare sales lots.
“We are at a point where inventory can’t keep up with demand,” said Brian Brancaccio, co-owner of Frank’s Marine in Berlin Center.
“My inventory of new pontoon boats was low and now we are sold out,” he said. “We can’t get more until the end of the season.”
He pointed to the six-week shutdown of a Michigan factory that supplies him as a major reason for the product shortage. Orders placed now won’t arrive until the end of August, he said.
Still, sales at Frank’s Marine are running about 75% ahead of last year. “I could have doubled my sales if I had more inventory,” Brancaccio said.
Frank’s specializes in pontoon boats for the area’s fishing lakes. New models retail for between $25,000 and $150,000.
Labor Day generally marks the end of the boating season, although summer water levels on some local lakes, including Lake Milton, are maintained until mid-October, he said.
Johnny K’s Powersports in Niles is the area’s only dealer of Sea-Doo personal watercraft. It also has a large inventory of Indian motorcycles, ATVs and the large off-road vehicles known as side-by-sides.
When the pandemic started, sales took a dip at Johnny K’s before bouncing back and moving ahead of last year.
Ryan Cvengros, sales manager, said fear and uncertainty likely caused the short slump. It didn’t help that the store reduced its sales staff in March and April and saw customers by appointment only. Since reopening its doors around May 1, the store has seen a turnaround.
“We had quite an influx of Pennsylvania residents and that was one factor in the sales increase,” Cvengros said. “People started buying them so that they had something to do with family and friends and stay away from crowds and stay safe.”
Cvengros said everything is selling now; but his most popular items are Sea-Doos, the Can-Am Maverick ATV and the Polaris RZR side-by-side.
The rugged, open-air side-by-sides have passenger and driver seats, like the front row of a car, and a price range of $13,000 to $28,000.
Johnny K’s currently has a good amount of merchandise in stock but that could change.
“Sales are up but it’s too soon to say [how the season will stack up to last year],” Cvengros said. “Getting inventory has been a problem that could affect sales as the summer continues.”
If a customer orders a vehicle that is not in stock, it could take a while before it arrives. “In the worst case, it will be six to eight weeks before delivery,” Cvengros said.
Pictured at top: Johnny K’s Powersports sales manager Ryan Cvengros says inventory is among the top concerns for those providing summer toys, whether the ATVs available at his store or pools, bikes and kayaks elsewhere.